Michigan Law Ends Stealth Unionization of Home Caregivers

Published May 15, 2012

Michigan’s 60,000 home health care aides are no longer deemed government employees—meaning they cannot be forced into a government employee union and have dues withheld—as a result of legislation signed in April by Gov. Rick Snyder (R).

The next step is for the Michigan Department of Community Health to stop the collecting dues from Medicaid payments intended to assist developmentally disabled adults. The money is being diverted to the Service Employees International Union, said Patrick J. Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.

“Ending this lucrative charade is terrific news for Michigan’s home health care providers, who have seen nearly $30 million skimmed from their payments over the last six years,” said Wright. “The designation of these private contractors and family members as government employees was illegal from the beginning. Michigan’s Constitution explicitly states that only the Legislature can define government employees. No political arrangement or interlocal agreement can change that.

“Now that the law has been clarified, the dues skim must end,” he added.

No Real Employer

The arrangement that allowed the SEIU to skim from Medicaid payments to some of the state’s most vulnerable residents was concocted during the administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D). An interlocal agreement between DCH and the Tri-County Aging Consortium allowed for the creation of the Michigan Quality Community Care Council, which served as the “employer” for what were really self-employed independent contractors or, overwhelmingly, family members caring for loved ones.

Despite there being no real employer with whom to engage in collective bargaining, the SEIU conducted a union representation vote in 2007. Out of the 44,000 home health care providers in Michigan at the time, only 7,900 voted, and 6,900 cast ballots for the union. Many providers were unaware a vote was taking place. They nonetheless were forced into the union.

Government-sector unions recently proposed a constitutional amendment to circumvent the legislative fix and restore the flow of the “dues.” The proposed amendment would violate the U.S. Constitution, however, because private employee unionization is purely a matter of federal law, Wright notes.

Third Victory Over Unions

This is the third time in 14 months an illegal unionization arrangement has been brought to an end in Michigan. On March 1, 2011, Gov. Snyder issued an executive order ending the illegal dues confiscation affecting tens of thousands of home-based day care providers who had been forced into a government-employee union through a similar scheme. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation had fought an 18-month court battle on behalf of day care owners.

On March 13 of this year, Snyder signed into law a bill specifying graduate student research assistants are not government employees subject to forced unionization. The MCLF represented more than 370 such students from the University of Michigan who objected to the illegal unionization effort.

Michael Jahr ([email protected]) is vice president for communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.